Friday, April 29, 2011

Coconut Tilapia over Coconut Curry Island Vegetables with Mashed Yama Blanco and Pigeon Peas








Caribbean food, Mon!
  
     Many people have tried a classic coconut crusted shrimp entree in restaurants and liked it.  In Florida and the caribbean, coconut crusted fish is also a popular item.
     I chose to use tilapia instead of a snapper for this recipe.  Gulf red snapper, mutton snapper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper and yellowtail snapper are usually my first choice for this recipe.  Because of the lingering gulf oil spill contamination, I just don't trust gulf seafood.  Unfortunately it will be a long time before I do trust gulf seafood.  All snapper are listed as unsustainable these days, so this is an even better reason to choose an alternative fish.
     Tilapia is farm raised in brackish water ponds.  The farming technique for tilapia has improved over the years.  Tilapia used to taste muddy several years ago.  Now the flesh of tilapia has a nice clean flavor.  Tilapia actually is in the snapper family of fish.  A coconut coating on tilapia tastes delicious!
     The bed of vegetables is lightly sauteed and simmered with coconut milk and curry spices.  Jicama is one of the vegetables in the mixture.  Jicama adds a light sweet apple flavor to the curry.  Curry is very popular in the caribbean islands.
     Pigeon peas are served everywhere in the caribbean.  Pigeon peas have a sweet pea, lentil and bean kind of flavor that is quite interesting.
     This is a very nice caribbean style entree, Mon!  By the way, portions tend to be large in the caribbean for casual dining.  It is easy to work up an appetite when fishing and snorkeling all day!
   
     Yams,  Malanga, Sweet Potatoes, Potatoes:
     I have given up trying to explain the difference between true yams, sweet potatoes and potatoes, because sweet potatoes are often marketed as yams.  Here we go one more time!  Because a root call white yam or yama blanco is called for in this recipe, it is important to know what this root really is.  Caribbean yama blanco is not a yam!
     Sweet potatoes and potatoes are native to the Americas.  A few yams are native to the Americas, but most are native to Africa and asia.  All three of these root vegetables come from three different plant species.  Sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family of plants.
     To add to the confusion, there is both a white sweet potato and a white yam.  True white yam is large with a brown skin and it is native to Africa.  White sweet potato has a red skin and it is native to the Americas.  White sweet potato is usually called yama blanco in the caribbean, Mexico, America and South America.  The flavor of yama blanco is incredibly sweet and fruity.  Yama blanco is my favorite yam, even though it is really a sweet potato.
     There are purple potatoes, purple yams and purple sweet potatoes.  This is off topic as far as today's recipe is concerned, because purple root tubers of any kind are not traditional in the caribbean.  The exception is along the coastline of Central and South America.  A high percentage of purple yams used in asian cuisine are actually purple sweet potatoes that are native to the Americas.  True purple yams are also native to the Americas and they are also used in asian recipes.  Both are starchy and can be turned into a purple flour for desserts.
     Cocoyam (yellow yam) is another caribbean island favorite and it is not related to potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes.  Cocoyam is also called malanga, yautia or malanga yautia.  Cocoyam is actually the root of a certain species of elephant ear plant and it that is the species of plant that taro comes from.  So now you know four separate species of caribbean root vegetables that are mistakenly only divided into two species at markets as yams or potatoes.
     Just to add a twist, long yellow sweet potatoes are often called cocoyam by caribbean islanders.  Yellow sweet potatoes are called yellow yams by caribbean chefs who want to avoid confusion, which actually adds to the confusion.  To make it clear, malanga is called cocoyam because the skin of this root is brown, rough, fibrous and coarse like the fibrous hull of a coconut shell.  The flesh of cocoyam is ivory white.
 
     Mashed Yama Blanco  (White Sweet Potato):
     Yama Blanco is a red skin sweet potato that has a white flesh!  It is often call white yam.
     Boil a 6 ounce yama blanco in water over medium high heat, till it becomes tender.
     Remove the white yam from the pot and drain off the water.
     Hold the tuber with a dry towel and scrape the skin off, with the back of a paring knife.
     Place the soft white yama blanco flesh in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 pat of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 tablespoon of cream.
     Add 1 small pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of allspice.
     Thoroughly mash the yam mixture, till it becomes very smooth and thick.
     Place the mashed yam into a star tipped pastry bag and keep it warm on a stove top.
  
     Pigeon Peas:
     Place a portion of rinsed cooked dried pigeon peas or rinsed canned pigeon peas into a small sauce pot.
     Add just enough light chicken broth to barely cover the pigeon peas.
     Add 1 unsalted butter pat.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil over medium heat.
     Keep the pigeon peas warm over very low heat.
  
     Coconut Curry Island Vegetables:
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 3 pats of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 1 teaspoon of ginger paste.
     When the garlic becomes aromatic, add 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of each of these vegetables that are cut into long strips:
     - jicama
     - peeled celery
     - carrot
     - green bell pepper
     Saute the vegetables, till they just start to become tender.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.  (Coconut milk will break and separate at a high temperature!)
     Add 3/4 cup of coconut milk.
     Add 1 pinch of turmeric.
     Add 2 pinches of garam masala curry powder.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 teaspoon of lime juice.
     Add sea salt.  (Black pepper and white pepper are in the garam masala mixture!)
     Gently simmer and reduce, till the coconut milk thickens to a medium thin sauce consistency.
     Set the vegetables aside and keep them warm on a stove top.
  
     Coconut Tilapia:
     Heat a saute pan over medium  heat.
     Add about enough vegetable frying oil, so the oil is 1/4" deep.
     Add 1 tablespoon of clarified butter (ghee).
     Heat the oil to 360º.  (I can judge temperature by eye.  Use a probe thermometer if you are not sure!)
     Cut some tilapia filets into 6 medium size pieces that weigh 2 1/2 to 3 ounces apiece.
     Dredge the tilapia pieces in flour.
     Dip the tilapia pieces in egg wash.
     Mix some shredded coconut and fine bread crumbs together in a bowl.  (The breading mixture should be about 70% coconut and 30% fine bread crumbs.)
     Season the coconut breading mixture with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Lightly dredge the egg washed tilapia in the coconut breading mixture one piece at a time.
     Place each coated piece of tilapia into the hot butter and oil.
     Pan fry the coconut tilapia on both sides, till the coconut turns a golden brown color.  (Be careful not to burn the coconut!  It browns in only about 30 to 45 seconds of pan frying!)
     Remove each piece of coconut tilapia from the pan as they brown and place them on a baking pan.
     Bake the coconut tilapia in a 300º oven, till the fish becomes fully cooked.  (A probe thermometer should read 145º in the center.)  Tilapia cooks quickly, so the baking time is only a few minutes.  The coconut coating will not burn, if it is baked for a short time in a moderate temperature oven.
     Remove the coconut tilapia from the oven.
  
     Coconut Tilapia over Coconut Curry Island Vegetables with Mashed Yama Blanco and Pigeon Peas:
     Place the coconut curry island vegetables on the middle of a plate as a bed for the coconut tilapia pieces.
     Pour any coconut curry sauce in the pan over the vegetables.
     Arrange the coconut tilapia pieces on top of the vegetables.
     Pipe the mashed white yam onto the plate with the pastry bag.
     Spoon some pigeon peas onto the plate.
     Garnish the plate with an Italian parsley sprig and a couple of curled lime slices.
  
     This coconut tilapia entree is delicious, Mon!  Every item on this plate is caribbean style food.  Yum!  Ya Mon!  ...  Shawna  

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